In 2004, Beep Beep’s Saddle Creek debut was a post-punk, good ol’ fashion Omaha stab at Gang of Four updates and electronic melodies dressed up as XTC nods. However, hitting just as much as it missed, Business Casual found Beep Beep unfortunately spending most of their potentially valuable time defining their identity in regards to their influences, hoping to justify their means. The result was a mostly benign offering, overflowing with inconsequential bounce as well as blistering craft. And then … that was kind of it.
Now, almost five years later, and armed with a slightly new line-up, Beep Beep’s long-awaited second LP proper, Enchanted Islands, uses a bewilderingly kinetic and simultaneously relaxed tone to bring about equal parts frustration, intrigue, and nearly inexplicable moments of brilliance. Along with it all comes distinct personality (which is, at the very least, promising) but Enchanted Islands is a truly mixed bag of prog-folk, off-centre indie balladry, and frantic positioning that is more ambitious than it is actually successful by about half, a gripping little miscalculation that is not without its share of captivating fumbles.
As the creepily slow burn of album opener “I See You!” suggests, this time around, Beep Beep is not so much interested in motion as they are mood. Only a track later, though, they careen through wiry riffs and stop-start timing signatures set to falsetto shape-shifting on “Mermaid Struggle”. More head scratching follows with tracks like “The Lion’s Mouth” with its Tears For Fears crooning and alt-rock affectations, and the Elliott Smith aping on “Wooden Nickels”. The vocal trade-offs with odd, intentional disparity add an air of lurching weirdness to many of the fourteen tracks, but do little in the way of creating the organic naturalism for which Beep Beep appear to be aiming. For all of its charming oddities and identity building, there isn’t much about Enchanted Islands that doesn’t feel forced.
While third act stunner “Mortal Warrior” plays out like a “Smoke on the Water” rendition as performed by Pavement, it proves rather laborious to get that far in the album in the first place. By the time it rallies towards the finish with several strong tracks whose sequencing trumps the entire rest of the LP, it’s all but impossible to not have given up on Enchanted Islands much earlier than that. The maddening pace is break-neck at first, tedious in the second place, and altogether tiresome as a whole. For every trademark moment of Saddle Creek dissonance and oddly placed synth melodies, there is another plodding several of noisy tripe being passed off as freak-folk indulgences.
The simple problem here is that the balance is completely off from the start. And yes, that is, perhaps, mostly the point — but that doesn’t mean it works. Beep Beep’s decision to marry their earlier inclinations towards post-punk loudness and danceable jammers with a more formless strangeness is admittedly enticing at first, but wears thin once its lack of substance is revealed. A bumpy, melancholic misadventure, Enchanted Islands is a poorly thought out experiment that haphazardly discovers flashes of genius beneath its under stylized over styling. Who was it that said “Keep it simple, stupid?” Oh, never mind.